Álex Barredo


Tumblr is Tumbling

The online home of the most creative and quirky people, and a beacon for social issues, Tumblr, has been on a slow but constant decline for years.

Álex Barredo

Tumblr is the home of some of the most creative online personas, and now it is dying. Or so it seems. Founded on early 2007 by David Karp with a new formula for really simplified blogging, it quickly took off.

With each passing quarter, most of their stats were crushing it. It was the new star of the New York tech scene. The East Coast had a good social platform after years of Californian monopoly (MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter, etc), at last.

In May of 2013, Yahoo snatched it for a cool $1,100 billion: $990 million plus liabilities. Most of the hardcore base shrieked at the prospect of their new corporate overlords. Yahoo promptly promised “to not screw it up” by leaving Tumblr alone, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

Yahoo’s plan was very straightforward: (1) buy the site, (2) fill it with ads from Yahoo’s own display business and (3) reap the profits of that big and growing user base. It didn’t happen.

Less than a year after the deal was closed, Tumblr peaked in activity. By February of 2014, there were more than 106 million new posts each day on the platform. Today that figure has been slashed by two thirds to around 35 million.

Tumblr peak of activity was between Dec 2013 and February 2014 (Álex Barredo)

These figures are derived by tracking the incremental unique identification of every new post on Tumblr. By comparing it with the date of the posts themselves, we can know a very close to exact number of posts made a day. The figures are backed up by Tumblr’s public stats (which isn’t updated constantly, so it’s not easy to get exact data) as archived on the Internet Wayback Machine for different times in history.

The number of new blogs created every day has also decreased. Every day, more than 130,000 blogs are created, according to Tumblr public stats. That metric is half of what it was at its peak, also in early 2014, when more than 240,000 new blogs were opened on the platform every day, a 45% decrease.

With new blogs and new posts going down every month, it’s hard to see how many actual users are left on the platform. Tumblr has never publicly disclosed active accounts figures, a semi-standard way of measuring engagement in social platforms.

With almost 170 billion posts, Tumblr seems to be at the end of its Sigmoid curve (Álex Barredo)

We can try to guess the exact user base with two approaches. As every new user gets a blog, we could use that figure as the upper figure of total accounts created, but Tumblr users — especially the most active — are prone to have several blogs to post different topics in each, so the figure should be watered down.

Tumblr has never given an exact measure, relying always on “millions of unique visitors”. A figure that combines users in the platform with mere external visitors, or even could be adding people loading a gif from a Tumblr URL in another site. The exact figure remains a mystery.

Yahoo wasn’t oblivious of this downtrend. In early 2016 it lowered Tumblr’s value in their books by $230 million to $760 million. The news came after it was obvious that the site couldn’t reach the $100 million goal in revenue for the fiscal year of 2015. A second write down came later that year with a further $482 million in impairment costs.

Yahoo has written down $712 million of the original $990 million that it paid for Tumblr

In a span of three years, Tumblr lost most of their value after the acquisition, and now that it’s owned by Verizon, it remains to be seen what could be done with a social platform that’s out of most people’s minds.

Verizon faces a dilemma. Tumblr is still big, but it’s not growing that much. It seems to be at the end of its Sigmoid curve, with their best days long past and a decreasing number of activity. The advertising value of the platform goes down in value each passing month, maybe prompting for a quick sale to a third party. Maybe it’s time for a reinvention.

The latter could be fruitful. Tumblr is a rare beast because it hadn’t been any major shifts since it’s original conception. A dashboard where users scroll chronologically through posts and reposts by the accounts you follow. It recently added an algorithm-driven approach to try to help uncover the better content in a sea of gifs and reposts, but many of their core users are not happy.

Maybe the solution lies beyond the “feed of things”. Something similar to the “Stories” format of Snapchat and Instagram as a new feature besides the current Dashboard to increase engament. That could help Tumblr as an advertising platform but risks alienating the users while not being enough to attract new people.

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